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After destroying diesel buses, MMT's switch to electric lacks power

Posted at 10:00 AM, Jan 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-14 12:00:00-05

A year and a half after Mountain Metropolitan Transit put four new electric buses into service in Colorado Springs, only two of them are running.

Proterra, the company that made the buses, is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is now being sold. Though the electric buses were mostly funded through grant money, News 5 Investigates has learned part of getting one grant meant destroying diesel buses in the fleet.

After all that effort, the transit agency can't rely on the e-buses that have a host of maintenance issues and parts delays due in part to the manufacturer's financial woes.

The idea of getting the electric buses was to move into the future, and reduce the noise, pollution and fuel costs of operating a fully diesel fleet.

But part of the contract to get two of the electric buses meant rendering two 17 and 18-year-old driveable diesel buses inoperable.

“It's not like we took a new bus that we're still using and we had to destroy it. These were buses at the end of their useful life that had to be replaced," said Elaine Sheridan with MMT.

From the start, Sheridan said, maintenance issues have been a problem for the electric buses.

“So two of them have drive motors out. They've had things with alignment. It has been various different things. We are working with the company that made them, Proterra. They've gone under Chapter 11 bankruptcy so now we're in an even a bigger issue because parts are a problem for Proterra. They aren't getting parts,” Sheridan said.

Colorado Springs isn't the only city left holding the wheel of inoperable Proterra buses. Among the 38 transit agencies that received Federal Transit Administration grants to afford the technology in 2019, multiple cities have reported significant maintenance issues with the buses, including Louisville, KY., Minneapolis, MN., and Albuquerque, NM.

Also unclear is what the U.S. Bankruptcy Court's approved sale of Proterra to a few companies, including Volvo Battery Solutions, LLC., and Phoenix Motor, Inc., will mean for existing bus warranties.

"Electrics were a pilot to see how they were working. We aren't really excited about how it's worked out so far, most certainly,” Sheridan said.

Each of MMT's four electric buses cost $1.2 million. Two of them were funded entirely by CDOT from the Volkeswagen Diesel Emission Settlement, which required the destruction of two diesel buses. The other two were funded through the FTA grant with PPRTA providing $1.4 million in matched local dollars, required by the federal grant.

After MMT got the e-buses in 2021, it also ordered 10 diesel buses and they all went into service around the same time. But you wouldn't know it by looking at the mileage.

Using MMT mileage data that News 5 obtained through an Open Records Request, four buses randomly chosen from the 10 have logged 20,774 more miles on average as compared with the mileage of the four e-buses. That mileage is from when the buses were put into service through January 9, 2024. Sheridan attributes the disparity to maintenance and parts delivery delays keeping the e-buses in the shop.

While MMT didn't get much mileage out of its electric buses, it is already reinvesting in green technology.

"The next round of low or no-emission buses are going to be hybrids. We think those will fit our community better, as far as the fact that you know, they have diesel when they need it. They have electric when we can use it. And that's good for the emissions because we do see high ozone in our area," Sheridan said.

MMT ordered the six hybrid buses from two different companies this time to avoid the potential of another manufacturer going under. The transit agency expects to roll out the new hybrid buses onto its routes by the end of this year.

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